Have we seen the last of the 12 Volt accessory outlet?

Trailblazer cargo area

Where Have They Gone?

We’re about to put twelve 2021 vehicles on our database for you to use for your new car shopping. We’re just about finished double checking that we have the right information before posting them. One of these vehicles is the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer.

Trailblazer is a smart looking, right sized compact sport utility vehicle. It fills a niche between its bigger sibling Equinox and the smaller Trax. I noticed one thing. We didn’t have any notes specifically for a 12 volt accessory outlet.  General Motors hasn’t posted the owner’s manual for Trailblazer yet, so we consulted both the GM web site and our own photography for Trailblazer taken at the Montreal Auto Show for more information. For those of you who need to plug in some kind of accessory, this is important.

12v accessory outlet with USB ports

There it is, right at the bottom of the centre stack. Even my focus is on the USB ports, and not the 12 volt outlet. But no mention of it on the Canadian or US web sites for Chevrolet?

Which got me thinking.

Why All the USB Ports?

USB ports have taken over from 12 volt accessory outlets. In recent years, manufacturers would substitute an existing 12 volt outlet for a USB outlet in mid-cycle updates so the wiring harness to the outlet wouldn’t have to be modified. This way they could keep up with the increasing use of smart phones and the need to charge them without a 12 volt adapter. Saving a few dollars on every vehicle can add up fast when sales volumes are in the hundreds of thousands. Currently (no pun intended), USB ports are being added at a furious rate. The new Hyundai Palisade has five standard USB ports and adds two more in the fully loaded models. The Honda Odyssey has four in its upper trim levels. Not to be outdone, Odyssey adds in three 12 V outlets. The proliferation of USB ports, in both USB-B and USB-C forms, is thick and fast.

Then and Now

Time was, any SUV worth its salt had at least three and often up to five 12 volt outlets. One in the lower front of the centre stack, one in the console box, one in the back of the console for second row passengers and another in the rear cargo area was pretty much standard fare.

The Trailblazer, the new kid on the block? One 12 volt outlet. But, here’s the kicker: Chevrolet also adds in a 120 volt AC outlet in upper trim levels. It’s located at the back of the centre console handy to rear seat passengers. If you need to plug in an electric cooler, maybe a boom box, or some variation on whatever Nintendo is offering these days, you’re in luck. No adapter required.

120 volt power outlet with USB

And USB ports? Trailblazer comes with at least four on the RS trim.

A Brief History

Twelve volt accessory outlets got their start as cigarette lighters. Not the outlet itself, but a cordless lighter insert that would heat up from the power supplied by the outlet. I can still smell the ash from the unfiltered Export cigarette that my father would light up during his ‘summer only’ smoking habit. (He lived to age 96, by the way, not that I’m endorsing smoking in any way, shape or form.). Wikipedia has a great article on the origins of the accessory outlet which really hasn’t changed that much over the years, dating back to 1921.

We’d plug in air compressors, small vacuums, fans, inverters, and travel mug warmers. What do we plug in now? Dashcams and phones. Just a few years ago, you needed to buy a USB adapter for your 12 volt outlet. Now, we just plug our USB equipped devices in. More and more small appliances are powered via USB and AC adapters, so these are ready to go with the latest ports available. And if your vehicle has a Qi charging pad, you can wirelessly charge your phone without plugging it in.

What's Next?

Are we witnessing the slow demise of the 12 volt accessory outlet? With all of the USB ports available, the 12 volt outlet in Trailblazer seems almost like an afterthought. Could we one day see a vehicle, after almost 100 years, without a 12 volt accessory outlet? GM doesn’t even see fit to list it on the web site for Trailblazer.

What You'll Find on Automobl

We keep track of USB ports on Automobl. We don’t keep track of the number and type of ports. When you visit your dealership, use the Showroom Vehicle Checklist as a reminder to review what kinds of accessory outlets and USB ports are available. You don’t want to be left behind in the electronics race, especially if Junior can’t charge that game console and you have a long drive ahead.


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